March 22, 2024

Gumbo in Houston - A Work in Progress


Gumbo recipes are like fingerprints. No two are exactly alike. But, “ no roux, no gumbo.” There has to be a roux.

My personal preference is for a dark roux. If you don’t get your roux dark enough, you’re missing out on some deep, toasted flavors. Shocking the trinity in the super hot roux starts the caramelization process.

Gumbo is translated from  West African words for okra (kingombo or quingombo). But I’ve noticed very little use of okra in the gumbos that I’ve been sampling.

Beginning in February of 2022, I began sampling gumbo at restaurants around town. Some were not great. Some were good enough. And some would warrant a return visit.

First off, the ones that I did not like.

Acme Oyster and Seafood. (NOTE: As of January 2024, Acme has closed their Houston location); The first time I sampled it, there wasn't any seafood to speak of in it. Just a mediocre, lukewarm gumbo broth. The second time, pretty much the same experience. Not recommended.

Eugene's Gulf Coast Cuisine. The day I went the chicken in the gumbo had that warmed over flavor profile that comes from refrigerating chicken and bringing it out of the fridge the next or subsequent days. Since then, I have seen several positive reviews on Houston Heights Foodies. I need to go back in 2024. 

Eunice Restaurant. The chicken was so heavily smoky that this became a one note gumbo. Smoky chicken. Again, I need to pay another visit in 2024.

Goode Company Seafood. A thick, flour-y gumbo broth that was really unpleasant. See roux comments under "Flying Fish".

State Fare Kitchen on I-10. I sat at the bar and ordered the gumbo. The bartender said "let me bring you a sample first to taste as some people think it is too dark." Well, I LOVE a good gumbo where the roux has blackened sufficiently. It shows the chef has the necessary skills. In this case, it wasn't a dark roux. It was a burned roux. And I was so grateful that I got to do a taste test first. Big tip to the bartender that day.

Flying Fish on Durham. I really wanted to like the gumbo here because they are local to the Heights. When you make a roux, that hot oil breaks down the glutenin and gliadin, the two proteins that form the gluten web when liquid is added. So the flour loses its thickening ability as it develops for the nutty roux flavor we all love. Although the roux here was dark, the gumbo had this thick flour paste feel and taste to it that was very unpleasant. There was a nice amount of sausage and shrimp but I couldn't get past that flour paste consistency. Same problem that I had with Goode Company Seafood.

Alfreda's. I remember not liking this one bit. Can't remember if it was because it was really greasy (but not in a good way like at Viola and Agnes) or that the spicing was just unbalanced. I seem to remember thinking "clueless kitchen".

Joe's Deli on Winkler on the East Side. More like a gumbo porridge. Cheap sausage, with a texture more like Vienna sausages. Broken up bits of rice cooked down in the gumbo. 

Esther’s Cajun on N Shepherd. Piled high with meat and fixins’ but very little broth. It wasn’t a favorite. I took it home, added two cups of water to thin it out and create a broth. While I finished it completely, I can’t imagine going back for it again.

 Willie's Bar and Grill off of 290. Come here for the burgers and onion rings but not the gumbo. I have to qualify by saying that I finished the bowl. But they dump too much worcestershire sauce into it and that is all you taste. Was it a goof on one particular day? I don't know as I haven't gone back for a second test.


1929 Po-Boy Cajun Kitchen inthe Lyric Market food hall on Smith.. For me, this is about as good as it gets.

Viola and Agnes on NASA Road 1. Still my favorite. The chef is from Lake Charles. The gumbo is really rich, with a layer of spicy oil on top, and includes a crab claw and a chicken drumstick. This is a place I would take out of towners as I pretty much like everything on the menu.  ( )

Christie’s Seafood on Westheimer.. For me, this is about as good as it gets. It is the style of gumbo I like best. Dark roux. Thinner broth. Lots of flavor. Shrimp added at the last moment so as not to cook down.

Gatlin’s Fins and Feathers on Crosstimbers. While their fried chicken was “good enough” but saltier than I like, I enjoyed their gumbo a lot. I would go back for the gumbo.

Bayou City Seafood on Richmond. I liked this gumbo a lot and it was one of the true bargains for the price. Big shrimp. Real seafood. I've been back three times now.

Zydeco Restaurant in downtown Houston. I ordered both a seafood gumbo and a chicken and sausage gumbo. The steam table looked really sad, but the gumbo. These were the simple but well prepared gumbos that I could eat every day. Actually, I had planned to just have a taste of each bowl and take the rest home. But spoonful followed spoonful and I burned through both bowls. And the jalapeño cornbread was tasty, too. Now, they had jars of Kary's Dark Roux for sale. I'm not sure if they make their own or just use the jar roux. 

Le Pam's House of Creole out on 1960. Very Louisiana. Very home cookin'. I liked the way the gumbo came together as it was ordered. Some roux and broth. Add some seafood. Heat it up. Tasty gumbo for sure. One thing that I suspect, though I'm not 100% sure...unlike every other gumbo I've tried, the Le Pam gumbo seemed to have a hint of Zatarain or Louisiana Foods crab boil liquid in it. 

7 Spice Cajun Seafood (right across the street from Le Pam's, and, I see that there is now one on Westheimer also). Funny that I did two places in one day. I suspect the gumbo at 7 Spice is more "chain restaurant", might have been where they just opened a jar of roux, etc. But you know, something about it, I kinda liked it just as much as Le Pam's. Go figure.

Grace's on Kirby had a decent gumbo that I would order again.

Lucille's. They feature a gumbo z'herbes, which I always thought was a meatless gumbo for Lent made with 9 kinds of greens. But theirs had meats in it and I've since learned that this is not out of the ordinary in the world of Louisiana gumbo. Online, I've seen a bunch of recipes for this type of gumbo that include ham hock or other types of meat. (the Leah Chase recipe has chorizo, sausage, brisket, etc. for example : It was a tasty gumbo.

Little Daddy's Gumbo Bar. In Galveston and also in League City. I've always liked their gumbo and enjoy getting a bowl when I am out that way.

Saigon House. The Vietnamese restaurant of chef Tony Nguyen, located out on 1960 (aka Cypress Creek Parkway). And a mile or so from Le Pam's and 7 Spice. A gumbo that I really enjoyed. Some comments from others indicate it may be a tad inconsistent so, fingers crossed, it will be delicious on the day that you visit. Here's a photo of their gumbo presentation.

Triola's on North Main. It isn't always on the menu. Megan Triola gave me a heads up one day that Frank Triola had made some gumbo. I stopped by and grabbed some to go. It was a pretty good gumbo I thought and I would not hesitate to have it again. Frank Triola's forte is Italian-American cuisine. He did a decent job on this.

Babin's Seafood Katy. I was torn on whether to give this a "favorite" listing or a "good enough" listing. It's part of the Landy's chain of restaurants. I'm pretty sure it is a jar roux. But it was a nice, dark roux. And the shrimp were succulent, though not as impressive as, say, Bayou City Seafood. In a pinch, I'd go back for the gumbo. 

Rainbow Lodge. I found the duck and andouille gumbo to be very tasty and I would order it again.

TaD's in Katy. I liked this gumbo. I was not prepared to. One reviewer on Google Maps insultingly said "the kind of place where they probably put tomatoes in the gumbo and mustard in the crawfish." But I liked it. The broth was thin, not thick and floury and chunky. The chicken was tender. The sausage was the right kind. It had a smokiness but not overwhelmingly so. 

Side Note: Katy now also has a The Best Stop Cajun Grocery at the Katy Food Hall strip center. They don't seem to have gumbo but they have boudin balls and just about everything else one might find at their flagship store in Scott, Louisiana.

"Good Enough Gumbo" (Because sometime good enough is good enough)

Abe's Cajun Market in Clear Lake.  A salty gumbo which would normally be an instant deal breaker. But I really like this gumbo. Even with its saltiness, it has a nice amount of sausage and chicken and a pretty good flavor profile.

BB's. A very meh gumbo, but still a good enough one if one isn't obsessed with finding the best.

Brennan's. Again, a gumbo with no soul. Kind of bland. Kind of boring. I wouldn't order it again. But not bad, so I put it in this "good enough" column.

A friend said good things about the Jason's Deli gumbo (prepared at one location in their commissary). I tried it at two locations and found it tasty enough.

Crawfish Cafe in the Heights. And I think the original location is on Bellaire Blvd. Again, a perfectly acceptable gumbo. The place is rocking at night, due to the boiled crawfish or seafood that you order sauced to your particular tastes.

Crescent City Beignet on San Felipe. An "okay" gumbo with no soul to it.

Captain Benny's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo. 

Frank's Americana. It was a thicker gumbo than is my preference, but I liked the flavor. And the shrimp in it weren't over cooked.

Roux Pour. Various locations. A decent enough gumbo from a chain.

Joyce's. A perfectly acceptable gumbo.

Pier 6 in San Leon. Another "okay" gumbo. Smallish serving. Decent flavor. Included okra in the recipe. Included two oysters which was a plus. But they cooked the smallish shrimp in the gumbo instead of cooking them separately and adding to the hot broth just before serving. So the shrimp were tough and not very appealing.

House of Roux in Old Town Spring. Original Visit: "For me, this is about as good as it gets. I discovered that I like dark, thin roux broths, like what I had at Liuzza's by the Track in New Orleans. I like them more than the thicker, flour gravy rouxs. For me, House of Roux, along with Viola and Agnes, and Bayou City Seafood are my three favorite gumbos in the Houston area. Update: 2023…Several re-visits and not great. Taking it off my favorites list.

Supreme Gumbo. (Note: As of January 2024, they've moved once again and I am not certain of the exact, current location; but they aren't on Cavalcade anymore). It was a little  food truck on Southmore at Almeda. Now, it is a stand alone on Cavalcade. It can be an acceptable gumbo with a real Lousiana feel to it. Or it can be totally awful. Depending on the day. Caveat emptor.  


" IN LOUISIANA, EVERYONE has a gumbo story. I’ve gathered a few favorite declarations about gumbo in my quest to write my own: “Gumbo is a food group” (Pableaux Johnson). “Gumbo is like a religion” (Melissa M. Martin). “Gumbo is a celebration” (Wayne Baquet, Sr.). These proclamations hint at an elusiveness that is essential to gumbo, one that I have found to be, at turns, bewildering and tantalizing. How could a humble pot of food hold something so sublime that it converts all Louisianians—no matter how wildly different their environments and backgrounds—into gumbo evangelists, zealots even? Maybe taking a look at three specific gumbo stories can give us a clue.


Pableaux Johnson is also known as Gumbo Claus because of his decade-long practice of handing out quarts of his turkey-bone gumbo around the holidays. I’ve come to depend on him as my gumbo mentor.

When I asked him how he makes his gumbo, Johnson’s first response was almost philosophical. “My gumbo is less a recipe than a process. Almost like a cycle. It takes place during a season.” Pressed for specifics, he produced this gem: “I buy a [ton] of turkeys and smoke them over the course of a very long time and then turn them into gumbo over the course of a very long time.” In this way, he explains, it’s a variation on a typical post-Thanksgiving gumbo using the leftover turkey and carcass. So it’s a turkey and sausage gumbo. But that doesn’t do it justice. He calls it a “stock‑first, roux‑last gumbo.” He smokes turkeys, picks the meat, and makes a rich stock with the bones. The roux doesn’t get added until after the stock has cooked down with the other ingredients. He includes the trinity of onion, bell pepper, and celery, but Johnson is keen to point out that the onion gets treated differently. With supreme patience he “cooks down 30 pounds of onions until they resemble something like hashish,” that is, until they’ve been transformed into an intensely dark, concentrated higher form of themselves.

Another key is the sausages he uses: andouille (a very coarsely cut sausage seasoned heavily with garlic, black pepper, and smoke) and smoked sausage (a finer, emulsified sausage with a completely different finished texture)—both from Jacob’s in LaPlace. According to Johnson, these are “the pinnacle of their form made at a very specific place by very specific people.” These are the kinds of pork products so crucial to a specific gumbo’s essential character and deliciousness that you don’t mind driving west out of New Orleans for 30 miles to get them.

Asked if there’s anything else he needs to tell me about his gumbo, Johnson gets adamant again, expressing the deeply personal, ultimately subjective nature of all gumbos: “Everybody has a different way that they do it. My gumbo is like my thumbprint. No one will say, ‘I have the best thumbprint.’ You don’t. It’s just you.” I like Johnson’s gumbo. A lot.

Here are two more gumbo stories, both of which originate in two very different traditions, approaching the opposite poles of the gumbo continuum.


Melissa M. Martin is a coastal Louisiana Cajun by birth, lauded New Orleans chef by profession, and author of the hauntingly beautiful Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou (2020), which is filled with recipes from her acclaimed Mosquito Supper Club restaurant. For Martin, whose family includes shrimpers and oyster fishermen whose lifestyles always meant cooking according to the seasons, Cajun food is about the excellence of local seafood and produce. It’s also predominantly the purview of women cooking at home. In the tradition of her mother and grandmother, Martin’s Cajun gumbos take a purist’s pride in simplicity.

With a fisherman’s reverence for the pristine seafood that is her peoples’ birthright, Martin recalls how her mother’s “subtle, modest, timeless” shrimp okra gumbo—which she calls the ultimate gumbo—required only “the perfect shrimp, a few vegetables, a couple of seasonings, and her Magnalite pot.” A gumbo made without a roux, it rests on the strong foundation of smothered okra (okra cooked low and slow in a covered pot for 8 hours) and sweet, fresh shrimp. It’s seasoned simply with onions; bay leaf; modest amounts of black and cayenne pepper; and a mild, vinegary Louisiana hot sauce. This is the gumbo by which Martin judges all others. It’s a gumbo emblematic of the heart of Cajun cooking, a home-cooked cuisine stamped with the terroir of rural Louisiana—whether bayous or prairies—and one that defies popular impressions of Cajun food left by Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse at the height of their fame in the 1980s and ’90s.


The final gumbo story in our trilogy is different too. It’s that of Wayne Baquet, Sr., founder of Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe, a New Orleans Creole restaurant in the historic Tremé neighborhood. If Martin’s Cajun gumbos prize simplicity, Creole gumbos in the style of the Baquet family seem to showcase and celebrate abundance. Baquet discussed his Creole gumbo in an oral history interview for the Southern Foodways Alliance. He learned the restaurant business from his father Edward Joseph Baquet, Sr., “namesake of the legendary 7th Ward restaurant Eddie’s,” and went on to open a total of 11 restaurants over the ensuing 40 years.

Starting with his mother’s recipe, he and his father perfected their gumbo—commonly referenced as one of the city’s finest—by engineering a fully seasoned dry roux (toasted in the oven) that would ensure that the family gumbo tasted the same at each of their restaurants. In addition to their signature roux, their Creole filé gumbo features crab, shrimp, their own homemade hot sausage, smoked sausage, and ham. The trinity; garlic; bay leaf; thyme (which Baquet notes is essential); and a final sprinkling of earthy, green tea–like filé powder round out the extraordinary gumbo. It’s relatively light and brothy but in no way insubstantial. Rather, it’s rich and robust (just as Baquet says that gumbo has “got to be”), unforgettable and completely distinct. Baquet’s final word on gumbo, when asked to define it, was that “gumbo is the soup of New Orleans with soul in it.” If any bowl of soup can be said to have a soul, a kind of essence that exists apart from and transcendent of its mere physical components, Li’l Dizzy’s gumbo would be the one.

Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of the common refrain that “gumbo is personal.” Chances are, if you’re a Louisiana family—whether you’re surrounded by brackish bayous on tendrils of land fading into the great Gulf or you can trace your Creole ancestry back to the names on crypts in 200-year-old New Orleans cemeteries—you have a family gumbo. You make a version of the one you love so much because that’s the one your mother made and because her mother did too.


Though she made the world’s finest potato salad, my mother did not make gumbo. Just three and a half years into my life in New Orleans, I am a relatively fresh convert to the religion of gumbo. But I am devout, absorbing the cuisine and everything written about the cuisine at as fast a clip as one human can handle. My gumbo story is short, but I am still writing it.

I had my first gumbo in New Orleans on a trip with a girl while we were still at the beginning stages of careening wildly into love. I can still see the single red crab claw, emerging from gumbo’s dark waters, beckoning me in. That trip hooked me on the soup and the girl for good. A native of New Orleans with French-Sicilian roots, she’s now my wife of 14 years, and she is the first person to have made me gumbo. She always told me to take my time with the roux, to stir it for as long as it takes to play one side of a record. Later on, the cookbooks of Paul Prudhomme dared me to make the roux faster and darker, preheating the oil to the smoke point before adding the flour and stirring for only about 10 minutes. My wife hasn’t divorced me yet.

Of course, Johnson’s gumbo has had a huge impact on mine as well. From him I take the stock‑first approach, replacing the turkey with a whole chicken and layering in smokiness with ham hocks. He’s convinced me completely about using two kinds of sausage; two of my personal favorites are the intensely smoky kind from Bourgeois Meat Market out in Thibodaux, Louisiana (thank you to the kind man behind the counter there for teaching me how to pronounce AHN-doo-ee), and Jacob’s World Famous Andouille.

And since I learned to love gumbo first in the “more is more” Creole style of the city, I side with their abundant approach when adding things to my pot. After all, gumbo is a celebration, and I made my first, proudest, big batches for the most revered high holidays: one at Thanksgiving and then again for Christmas a month later and then again for Mardi Gras the following March, adding to a cyclical story I hope never ends and only gets richer.

I lavished love on those gumbos, carefully and patiently tending to them, knowing full well that they would reward me, that when I ladled the gumbo into bowls for my friends and family to feast on that I would be proud and that it would be more than worth it, knowing that if you’re going to go to the effort to make a gumbo, it should be one worth telling stories about.


Serves 10 to 14
Total Time: 4½ hours

You will need a 7-quart or larger Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed large stock pot for this recipe. You can substitute 3 pounds of mixed bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces for the whole chicken. Making the roux quickly, as called for here, requires constant attention and whisking, so monitor it closely, and be sure to have your prepped vegetables at the ready. We strongly recommend using good-quality Louisiana andouille and smoked sausage, such as those from Jacob’s World Famous Andouille. Bourgeois Meat Market in Thibodaux is another good online resource for smoked sausages. In a pinch, you can substitute kielbasa for either or both. The saltiness of the final dish will vary depending on the pork products you use, so liberal seasoning with additional salt before serving may be necessary. We like to serve this gumbo with Crystal Hot Sauce.

1. Pat chicken dry inside and out with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 7-quart or larger Dutch oven over ­medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and cook, turning as needed, until well browned on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Add broth, ham hocks, halved onion, reserved shrimp shells, smashed garlic, and 2 bay leaves and bring to ­simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to low; cover; and simmer until chicken registers at least 160 degrees in breasts and thighs, 40 to 45 minutes.

2. Off heat, transfer chicken to cutting board and let cool slightly. Pull meat from bones, shred into bite-size pieces with 2 forks, and transfer to bowl; refrigerate meat while finishing stock. Add skin and bones to stock and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover; and simmer until ham hocks are tender, 1 to 1½ hours.

3. Off heat, transfer ham hocks to cutting board and let cool slightly. Strain stock through fine-mesh strainer set over large bowl or container (you should have about 12 cups stock; add water as needed to make up difference). Shred ham hocks into bite-size pieces and transfer to bowl with chicken meat (keep refrigerated); discard skin and bones. Skim excess fat from surface of stock using large spoon or ladle; set aside. (Cooled stock and shredded meats can be refrigerated separately for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month; thaw before using.)

4. Heat remaining 1¼ cups oil in now-empty, dry Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until roux is color of milk chocolate, 8 to 14 minutes. (Roux will begin to smoke during final few minutes of cooking.) Reduce heat to medium and add bell peppers, celery, sugar, Creole seasoning, and chopped onions. Cook, stirring and scraping bottom of pot often, until vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes.

5. Stir in pepper, paprika, white ­pepper, and minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 ­minutes. Add reserved stock, andouille sausage, thyme sprigs, and remaining 2 bay leaves, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour.

6. Meanwhile, cook smoked sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to plate; set aside.

7. Add okra, shredded chicken and ham, and browned sausage to gumbo and cook, covered, until okra is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, uncovered, until opaque, about 5 minutes. Off heat, skim excess fat from surface of gumbo. Discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice, sprinkled with scallions.

(3-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded

1¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

12 cups chicken broth

(12-ounce) smoked ham hocks

onions (1 halved, 2 chopped), divided

1½ pounds large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound), peeled, deveined, tails removed, and shells reserved

16 garlic cloves (6 smashed, 10 minced), divided

bay leaves, divided

1½ cups all-purpose flour

green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

celery ribs, chopped

tablespoon sugar

tablespoon Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning

2½ teaspoons pepper

teaspoon smoked paprika

teaspoon white pepper

pound Jacob’s World Famous andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and sliced ½ inch thick

12 sprigs fresh thyme

pound Jacob’s World Famous smoked sausage, sliced ¼ inch thick

12 ounces fresh or frozen okra, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces

6–8 cups cooked white rice

scallions, sliced thin

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